County Face: Duane Belanger of Fort Kent
FORT KENT, Maine — Duane Belanger may be a non-traditional University of Maine at Fort Kent student, but his dedication to serving others is as time-honored as the St. John Valley he calls home. At 52, Belanger is completing his junior year in the nursing degree program at UMFK, and preparing for his third international medical mission, which will take place in Peru this coming May.
Belanger has a history of community service which began long before he enrolled at UMFK.
In the 1990’s, Belanger served as town manager in Wallagrass and represented District 151 in the Maine Legislature for a term.
A U.S. Army veteran, Belanger also has been active in veterans affairs. He has served as commander of the American Legion Martin-Klein Post 133 in Fort Kent, and is currently the state veterans chairman for the Knights of Columbus, and a member of the advisory committee of Wreaths Across America, an organization that honors fallen soldiers by placing wreaths on their graves.
Belanger credits his parents, Roger and Juanita Belanger, with instilling in him and his siblings the values of hard work and community service.
“My father was always actively helping other people. It was never really a choice; it was just natural, I guess, growing up the way my parents raised us,” he said. “My father was always more of a handyman — always going out to help people fix their plumbing. Then he became a barber and went into nursing homes to cut hair on elderly people. (My parents) both made sure we worked potato harvest to learn the value of work early.”
Duane Belanger remains active in community service at UMFK, where he recently organized a Student Veterans Association on campus.
And he serves as president of UMFK Partners for International Relief, a group which provides much needed medical care to underserved people. So far he has traveled with the group to Brazil and Costa Rica. Belanger also serves as a student representative on the UMaine System Board of Trustees and as student representative to the UMFK Board of Visitors.
Belanger did not always envision himself as a nursing student. Prior to attending UMFK he worked for the Xerox Corporation for 16 years.
“I had to make a vocation change and one of the reps at the V.A. suggested I look into nursing. I thought they were nuts. I’d never contemplated it before,” he said. “I’ve got to say, I hesitantly started but actually, I love it. I’ve always liked helping people and to be able to care for people is really a privilege.”
Belanger said his faculty advisor at UMFK, Jenny Radsma, asked him last spring what he would like to do after completing his bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“I told her I would like be a nurse practitioner but I am gonna be 52 when I finish and I’m kind of like, too old,” he said. “She told me, ‘Five years from now you will be 57, and you are still going to be 57 regardless of whether you do this or not, so you really should pursue the doctor of nursing practice program.”
Encouraged by that conversation, Belanger has since applied and been accepted to an online doctoral program through Creighton University in Nebraska, which he plans to complete once he graduates from UMFK.
“I’d like to practice somewhere in The County and still have the flexibility to participate in medical missions. I want to stay active with Partners for International Relief after I graduate,” he said.
Belanger said he is happy with where life has taken him, and is looking forward to the future.
“The experience at UMFK has been life-changing for me. I can’t say enough about UMFK; it’s an amazing organization,” he said. “Just the caliber of the students there and seeing them grow and getting to know them and the faculty all the way up to (UMFK President John) Short; it’s just incredible the caliber of people we have in our community.”
Belanger lives in Fort Kent with his wife, Bonnie Desjardins. He is the father of three adult children, daughters Jamie Belanger and Jennifer Klauer, and son Jonathan Belanger.